Make Believe Pitchfork Media record review
|Make Believe (2005)
|Studio album by Weezer
|May 10, 2005
Reviewer: Rob Mitchum (Pitchfork Media)
Publishing date: May 8, 2005
If you're one of those poor souls who while away the day job by keeping a scorecard of music review sites, there's one thing you already know: There are two distinct groups of bad albums. The more prevalent kind is the fodder that fills a critic's mailbox, bands with awkward names and laser-printed cover art that don't inspire ire so much as pity. The second group is more treacherous: Bands that yield high expectations due to past achievements, yet, for one reason or another, wipe out like "The Wide World of Sports"' agony-of-defeat skier.
Often, these albums are bombarded with website tomatoes for reasons you can't necessarily hear through speakers: the band changes their sound and image to court a new crossover audience, perhaps, or attempts a mid-career shift into ill-advised territory. Or maybe they start writing songs about Moses in hip-hop slang. But sometimes the bad album in question is none of the above; it doesn't offend anyone's delicate scene-politics sensibilities or try to rewrite a once-successful formula in unfortunate ways. Sometimes an album is just awful. Make Believe is one of those albums.
Weezer have been given a lot of breaks in their second era-- both The Green Album and Maladroit were cut miles of slack despite consisting of little more than slightly above-average power-pop. The obvious reason for this lenience has to do with the mean age of rock critics, and the fact that most of these mid-20s scribes were at their absolute peak for bias-forming melodrama when The Blue Album and Pinkerton were released. Even for someone like me, who came late to the Weezer appreciation club, it was impossible to hear these "comeback" albums without the echoes of the earlier alt-rock pillars ringing in our ears.
But now there's an antidote to that nostalgic interference. Right from the start of Make Believe, when Weezer lurches into a flaccid take on Joan Jett's "I Love Rock N' Roll" with an unfathomably horrible speak/sing vocal from Rivers Cuomo (think "I like girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch"), you can hear hundreds of critics mouthing "no no no" and going into crumpled shock. What's more disconcerting is that the song gets worse over the course of its three minutes (let's just say "Framptonesque voicebox solo" and get back to repressing the memory)-- and it's the album's first single.
Hearing a song like "We Are All on Drugs", which nicks the classic melody of the schoolyard "Diarrhea" song (you know, "when you're sliding into first..." and so on) for an anti-drug message stiffer than Nancy Reagan's "Diff'rent Strokes" cameo, it calls into question whether The Blue Album was really that great, or whether it just stood out as a rare beacon of guitar pop in a grunge-obsessed era. Trying to wrap your mind around the land-cliché-record lyrics of songs like "My Best Friend" and "Haunt You Every Day" leads me to wonder how Pinkerton could ever have seemed like such a cathartically resonant treatise on unrequited love. Was Rivers Cuomo always on the notebook-scrawl level of "I don't feel the joy/ I don't feel the pain," and did we not notice because scrawling in notebooks was the depth of our emotional knowledge at the time?
Okay, let's not be so hard on ourselves here: I'm pretty sure this is all Rivers' fault. Pinkerton triumphed by being an uncomfortably honest self-portrait of Cuomo. On Make Believe, his personality has vanished beneath layers of self-imposed universality, writing non-specific power ballads like he apprenticed with Diane Warren, and whoah-oh-ohing a whole lot in lieu of coming up with coherent or interesting thoughts. Coupled with his continued obsession with tired power chords and bland riff-rock (surprisingly not sonically boosted by producer Rick Rubin, whose post-"99 Problems" grip on relevance is now officially spent), the creative driving force behind the Weez is asleep at the wheel.
Considering Weezer supposedly went through hundreds of songs and several discarded albums to arrive at this final product, the laziness of this songwriting borders on the offensive. Whether recycling dynamics from the band's back catalog (see: "Perfect Situation") or taking the easy Mother Goose rhyme (see: every fucking song here), these 12 tracks sound as if they were dashed off in an afternoon's work, maybe with Rubin holding the band at gunpoint. The one half-decent song on the record, "This Is Such a Pity", fails to even maintain its status as a pleasant Cars homage, interjecting a guitar solo that sounds like it was cut from the original score to Top Gun.
So does Make Believe completely ruin not just present-day Weezer, but retroactively, any enjoyment to be had from their earlier work? I don't know-- I'm too scared to re-listen to those first two albums-- but it certainly appears that Make Believe will expertly extract the last remaining good graces the critical community has to offer latter-day Weezer, unless my colleagues' memories of slow-dancing with Ashley to "Say It Ain't So" are more powerful than I can possibly imagine. Of course, if Ashley went on to break your heart, fellow critic, Make Believe might be just the medicine you need; put it on repeat and watch your emotional scar be obliterated as collateral damage in the torpedoing of Weezer's legacy.
- Rob Mitchum, May 8 2005
- More reviews of Make Believe
- Reviews of individual Make Believe tracks
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